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Part of the
exhibition

In the Presence of Absence proposals for the museum collection

5 Sep 2020 until 31 Jan 2021

Artist Page — 2 Sep 2020

In the Presence of Absence, the bi-annual show of proposals for the museum collection, presents 23 artists (collectives). This artist page includes a text on the work and an artist contribution.

In Ali Baba Express: Episode 2 (2020), Ghita Skali brings to light an underground transport economy that connects Morocco to numerous places in Europe. The physical form of the work appears as an endless supply of verbena tea leaves that changes over time, depending on the amount of tea taken home by the audience. Through mediating new transactions when restocking is necessary, Skali maintains a direct exchange between the museum and the day to day reality outside the museum walls. The work depicts a system in which supply and demand is driven by an economy centered on memory and reliving memories through taste: Why is a taste more intense when you know your access to it is limited? 

Through an informal exchange of telephone numbers between carriers and sellers from different places in Morocco, products – such as verbena tea, Aicha jam, khlii (dried meat), and Pom's (local lemonade) – are available throughout the Netherlands and other places in Europe for a low price. Previously installed in various contexts such as The Sprint Bar in Clermont-Ferrand, and now installed at the Stedelijk for the first time within a museum context, the work aims to question prevailing dynamics regarding access, exchange, and transaction.

Illustration by Haitham Haddad after Ghita Skali’s “Ali Baba Express: Episode 2,” 2020.
Illustration by Haitham Haddad after Ghita Skali’s “Ali Baba Express: Episode 2,” 2020.

The title of the work, Ali Baba Express: Episode 2, is an adaptation of the name of the famous Chinese e-commerce website and a reappropriation of a stereotypical reference to Arab culture as an empowering and emancipating name for the way the tea is brought to the museum. The work depends on the communication between the artist and her contacts in Morocco, and contests different conditions every time, depending on when and where it is installed. Preparations for the Stedelijk Museum exhibition took place under regulations aimed at preventing the spread of COVID-19, and it is uncertain if the verbena tea leaves can arrive and be restocked when necessary, due to global border restrictions.

Ali Baba Express: Episode 2 is an example of how Ghita Skali’s (b. 1992) practice brings in realities that exist outside the arts and empowers other realities through her work, consisting of installations, interventions, performances, and video. Often inspired by gossip, rumors, underground activities, and anecdotes, she begins to further investigate potential social or political issues that have been strangely left unsolicited, unseen, and untouched.

Ghita Skali, “Ali Baba Express: Episode 1,” 2019. 60kg of verbena tea, rumors, plastic bags and kettles, Clermont-Ferrand. Photo: Michael Colle. ©Ghita Skali.
Ghita Skali, “Ali Baba Express: Episode 1,” 2019. 60kg of verbena tea, rumors, plastic bags and kettles, Clermont-Ferrand. Photo: Michael Colle. ©Ghita Skali.

Artist Contribution

Ghita Skali, “Ali Baba Express,” 2020. Mindmap 42 x 32 cm. Courtesy the artist.
Ghita Skali, “Ali Baba Express,” 2020. Mindmap 42 x 32 cm. Courtesy the artist.